Dr King Day Address

"I feel a special honour in speaking to you on Martin Luther King Jr’s Day,  Dr. King’s tireless activism fostered our modern way of relating to one another. Yes, we are here today - empowered with the feeling that if we want to, we can speak truthfully to one another.    We can work together!   We can rely on one another!
Dr King's actions made his dream our reality.  Look around this room and realize the final chapter of that movement - still waits for a generation with the courage to write it. Dr King never succumbed to hopelessness - he showed us what one citizen can achieve when armed with an evangelical zeal for freedom and a first-class education.
Though he is mostly reduced to a dreamer today, Dr. King was an achiever, a powerful exemplar of action. His last book is " Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" A question most appropriate for us in this moment. Dr. King never lost faith in the ability of humans to behave better. He didn’t settle. He succeeded. His single-mindedness is what is required of us, at this time. Do not settle. Succeed.
In rebuilding our lives, let’s revisit the potential of democracy and the glory when citizens are mobilized to enlightened action. The soldiers in Martin Luther King’s army are people demanding change - lawyers, clerks, politicians, housewives, businessmen, maids, clergymen. I stand before you tonight, and I say the best way to be, is to do.
Don’t settle for style. Succeed in substance. It’s been quite some time since a younger generation pushed an older one to a higher standard. My Daddy thought – no, he expected – that my brothers and I and our generation would make the world a better place. He is correct in his belief because he lives in an America of continual social progress. Depression followed by prosperity, segregation by integration, and so on. (continued below clip)

 Somewhere between my daddy’s youth and mine, generational aspirations for a richer democracy changed to aspirations for a richer me - more wealth, more leisure time and lower quality of work. Oh, and forget political process. Voting became too much - let alone keeping an eye on our tax dollars being squandered - our interests poorly served by our elected officials.


When did we begin to lose faith in our ability to effect change? Perhaps it was the 1980s when the “opportunity” inherent in the American Dream was distorted from the land of “we” to the land of “to hell with anybody else but me.” Maybe preoccupation with technological progress overshadowed our concern with human progress. In any case, generations are now named for the last letters of the alphabet. And these alphabet-named people are distinguished by the ability to manipulate new technology, to buy new things with money they have not earned and be obsessed with the trivial lives of celebrity.


- But I know you’re more than that. I have no idea what my generation did to enrich our democracy. What movement have we been identified with that forced our elders to keep their promises… that challenged their failures or built upon their successes? For me, we dropped the ball after the Civil Rights Movement. We entered a period of complacency and closed our eyes to the very public corruption of our democracy. We have seen our money squandered and stolen, our civic rights trampled, and the politics of polarity become the order of the day, we have held absolutely no one accountable.


From us, you inherit an abiding helplessness. If you realize the unfortunate consequences of inaction, hopefully you will understand even more the importance of holding both your elders and your peers accountable Should my generation expect yours to be the watchdogs of this effort? Should we expect you to monitor how our leaders handle this responsibility Well, my generation might not – because we have not been very good watchdogs ourselves. But I do. I expect you to be different than the example we’ve set for you.


Don’t wish for someone else to do later what you can do now. When you perceive a problem, instead of speaking about it in dorm rooms or in hushed corners of bars or loudly in bars. Put together a group of friends and be loud and public in your dissent. When you notice inconsistencies between what is said by government officials and what is done, exercise your individual and collective power to take steps to remove them. Our form of democracy allows you to do that. Remember, the best way to be, is to do. What are you going to do?


You know, democracy is a can-do form. We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major responsibility of it is participation. Throughout history, we have seen causes for the betterment of democracy invigorated by young people unafraid to fight for the general welfare of all, even if it meant alienation from their own families.


That is why I urge you not to let this moment pass without sending a clear message to your peers and elders around the world. When the minds and hearts of enough citizens are focused on change- it changes very quickly. We have a roadmap to success - the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because he didn’t settle for “that’s just the way things are,” -we don’t have to. Because he led an intelligent assault on all sorts of sanctioned corruption, we too can use our intelligence to protect and project integrity. Because he understood that all human beings are of one race long before the discovery of the DNA strain, we can now live that reality.


Because Dr. King was always about the business of making real the human grandeur outlined in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, we can still believe that our government can be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Let’s concentrate our energies to that end.


Look around the room…and I want you all to understand that there are forces all around you who wish to exploit division, rob you of your freedom, and tell you what to think. They are afraid of change…some of these forces are even within you. But I’m here to tell you, when young folks are motivated to action, when they act with insight, soul and fire, they can rekindle the weary spirit of a slumbering nation. It’s time somebody woke us up.
Edited with permission - 2006 - Maiia


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